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Conference Realignment: The Big 12 Should Swing For The Fences

The Big 12 has, on multiple occasions, found itself on life support in the last couple of years of conference realignment. For a brief moment, however, it has a chance to go on the offensive. It should not waste the opportunity.

EL PASO TX - DECEMBER 30:  (L-R) Stephen Morris #17  of the Miami Hurricanes hugs Tommy Rees #13 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Sun Bowl on December 30 2010 in El Paso Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
EL PASO TX - DECEMBER 30: (L-R) Stephen Morris #17 of the Miami Hurricanes hugs Tommy Rees #13 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Sun Bowl on December 30 2010 in El Paso Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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On July 1, 2009, Larry Scott, former CEO of the Women's Tennis Association, took over as the commissioner of the Pac-10. In one year, he completely redefined his conference. He turned the rumble of conference realignment into an avalanche, inviting half of the Big 12 -- Colorado, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, Texas, Texas A&M and Texas Tech -- into the conference. That he came up short of that goal (reeling in just Colorado and Utah instead) didn't really matter. He became one of the most well-respected, influential higher-ups in college sports just for trying. Since turning the Pac-10 into the Pac-12, he created a network, visited China for media deals, and the like. He is a powerhouse.

As crazy as it may have sounded a few months ago, former Stanford athletic director Bob Bowlsby inherited a similar situation when he took the reins of the Big 12 a couple of weeks ago. Not only has the Big 12 survived two tumultuous rounds of conference realignment, but they have begun to emerge into a position of power. Instead of falling apart following the departures of two more teams (Texas A&M and Missouri left last fall, making it one full third of the conference's original membership heading for the exits in 18 months), the conference asserted its dominance of the Big East, snagging West Virginia and TCU to move back to 10 programs. Now, rumors of further developments have been friendly to the conference as well.

In other words, if Bowlsby were in the mood to take a home run swing of his own, the move could be both well-received and somewhat successful.

Following Scott's ambitious lead, here's what Bowlsby should do: invite BYU, Clemson, Florida State, Louisville, Miami, and Notre Dame to join the Big 12. Do it soon, and do it publicly.

Why these six programs?

Florida State. What seemed like unrealistic "FSU wants out" rumors not too long ago have now picked up some evidence-based steam. FSU is unhappy with the new television contract and unhappy that the ACC has done very little to build its football brand. The draw of a football-friendly Big 12 apparently needs to be taken quite seriously. I personally doubt this move takes place, but I am very much less sure of that than I was a week ago.

Miami. According to Yahoo!'s Dan Wetzel, if FSU does make the move, it appears that Miami is in the most favorable situation to join them. (And yes, Miami is shooting down the rumors. That would be a given if they were absolutely going or absolutely staying.) They are not really The U anymore, but they are still a name brand to some extent. And needless to say, there is still aesthetic value in annual matchups like Miami-Florida State, Miami-Notre Dame and Miami-Oklahoma.

Clemson. Long tied to FSU in Big 12 rumors, Clemson is another football-first program in a basketball-first conference. According to the Yahoo! report above, however, "While Clemson is often discussed as a potential partner with FSU, many believe the school's ties to the ACC are too deep (it was a founding member in 1953) and exposure in the Atlanta and North Carolina markets are too important for the university as a whole to bolt to some far-flung league." This is a legitimate concern, but the Big 12 should take the time to find out.

Louisville. We know that the Cardinals desperately want out of the Big East. They have made it quite obvious. Most scenarios have them eventually leaving for either the ACC or Big 12, and since the ACC is getting nuked in this scenario, it only makes sense to include the Cardinals in this move. Plus, it would give Kansas another heavyweight basketball program with which to battle.

BYU. BYU has been tied to Big 12 rumors since its inception, but it just hasn't ever worked out. It seems the Big 12 would be a nice home simply because the conference's third-tier rights could pretty easily (and happily) go toward BYUtv programming, but BYU brings a lot of requirements to the table. Just because it hasn't worked, though, doesn't mean it won't.

Notre Dame. Ah, yes, Notre Dame, apple of almost every conference's eye. Writers speak of the Irish like a deer in the woods -- it enjoys just standing where it is (independence) and eating grass, but sudden moves could spook it into doing something rash (i.e. join a conference). Developments in the quest for a college football playoff may have spooked the Irish a little (especially if the conference championship requirement takes hold), and Notre Dame's other sports could be looking for a conference if the Big East continues to fall apart. In other words, while the odds are still in favor of Notre Dame maintaining independence, the chances of them jumping into a conference are at least slightly better now than at any other recent time. You might as well try to both spook them and entice them (third-tier rights could easily lead to Notre Dame keeping some sort of arrangement in place with NBC, or some other third party, though obviously it wouldn't be worth as much as their current arrangement) at the same time.

First of all, it is impossible not to get starry-eyed about the prospects of these six programs joining an already-strong football conference.

New Big 12 East: Clemson, Florida State, Miami, West Virginia
New Big 12 North: Iowa State, Kansas, Kansas State, Notre Dame
New Big 12 Midwest: Baylor, BYU, Louisville, Oklahoma
New Big 12 South: Oklahoma State, TCU, Texas, Texas Tech

In terms of five-year F/+ rankings, the Big 12 already has No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 6 TCU, No. 11 Texas, No. 12 West Virginia, No. 13 Oklahoma State and No. 34 Texas Tech. This move would add No. 16 Florida State, No. 18 Clemson, No. 30 BYU, No. 31 Miami and No. 35 Notre Dame, giving them 11 teams in the Top 35. The SEC only has eight. Like they say you are supposed to do when you get to prison, Larry Scott immediately picked a fight with a seemingly equal conference in the Big 12. Now Bowlsby would be doing exactly the same thing with the ACC, which many have believed has been in a deceptive position of power during realignment drama. The ACC would be half-crippled by this move and the ones that follow (in response, the SEC might pick up its interest in a program like Virginia Tech, as well), and at the very least it would have to go on the defensive.

Of course, it goes without saying that the odds of this move succeeding would be minimal. Notre Dame is still likely to stay independent, BYU hasn't figured out how to make it work with the Big 12 to date (which suggests there's a chance they never will), Clemson might not actually be interested in leaving a conference it helped to establish, and at the end of the day, Florida State might decide it is no more attractive to leave a conference dominated by North Carolina and Duke for a conference dominated by Texas and, well, Texas. But the fact that this move would have even a five or 10 percent chance of success suggests that Bowlsby and company should attempt it.

Odds are good that, if the Big 12 were to attempt a move like this, the more realistic result would be something like FSU, Miami, Louisville and Tulane (as a random, academics-friendly, large-market addition) coming aboard or perhaps just Louisville and BYU. But aside from short-term, what-could-have-been disappointment, there is almost no drawback to aiming this high. It certainly didn't hurt the Pac-12; more than a year after their attempt at six Big 12 schools came up short, they found themselves in position to still add Oklahoma and Texas, among others, but allegedly didn't want to deal with the Longhorn Network. It is almost impossible to envision the fallout of such an attempt (Would the SEC go after more programs? Would the Big Ten and Pac-12 form an even tighter alliance?), but almost none of such fallout would adversely impact the Big 12.

Six months ago, the Big 12 was in a reactive position. They had to add two teams for survival, and really, they were lucky that the Big East, in its own slight position of power a few months earlier, had not been able to act with any sort of authority. Today, the Big 12 can afford to be proactive, and even though the result might not be as starry-eyed as the attempt, now is the time to act. You never know what developments are around the corner, and if you have a chance to swing for the fences, you should do so.

While we’re here, let’s watch some college football videos from SB Nation’s new YouTube channel together: